Measuring COVID-19 Effects: Southern Baptists Report 19% Attendance Drop

Por Adelle Banks
church SBC attendance down
Membership, worship attendance, and Christian education participation are all down for Southern Baptists in 2021. (Photo by Andrew Seaman/Unsplash/Creative Commons)

Anecdotally, clergy have talked about the disruption in worship attendance in this pandemic age. Now, Southern Baptists have statistics to prove it.

The average in-person weekly attendance at Southern Baptist Convention churches declined 18.75%, from 4,439,797 in 2020 to 3,607,530 in 2021.

Christian education saw an even larger decrease of 22.15%, with Sunday school, Bible study and small groups reduced from 2,879,130 to 2,241,514. 

The Annual Church Profile, a compilation from the denomination’s state conventions, fue lanzado Thursday by Lifeway Christian Resources, the convention’s data gathering division.

Researchers also blamed COVID-19 for the slowdown in baptisms in the past two years. While there has been a 26% annual increase in baptisms at Southern Baptist churches, from 123,160 in 2020 to 154,701 in 2021, overall baptisms are nowhere near the total of 235,748 reported in 2019, the year before the pandemic began.

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Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said the recent rise in baptisms was due not only to churches’ reopening as the pandemic eased earlier this year, but to the increased evangelism the easing allowed.

“Some people could have been ready to be baptized but delayed it until their church was meeting again,” he said. “But we attribute most of the growth to individuals and churches resuming activities where they have shared the gospel with others.”

SBC attendance
“2021 Southern Baptist Convention Statistical Summary” (Graphic courtesy of Lifeway Research)

Willie McLaurin, the SBC Executive Committee’s interim president and CEO, said in Lifeway’s announcement of the 2021 profile that he rejoiced at the “uptick” in baptisms.

Willie McLaurin
Willie McLaurin. (Foto por Prensa Bautista)

“I am incredibly proud of local churches that have stayed steady with evangelism during the pandemic,” said McLaurin. “The increase in baptisms highlights that local pastors and churches prioritize soul-winning, evangelism and discipleship.”

The only other growth Southern Baptists saw in 2021 was in financial giving. Contributions increased by $304 million for a total of $11.8 billion overall.

But membership is continuing its decline of many years with a 3% loss, from 14,089,947 in 2020 to 13,680,493 in 2021.

In addition to continuing loss in membership, there was a drop in total number of congregations for the fourth year in a row in the United States’ largest Protestant denomination. Congregations in 2021 totaled 50,423, down from a peak of 51,920 in 2017.

The Annual Church Profile for the first time featured research on online worship and religious education.

Southern Baptist congregations said 1,447,313 attended online on average each week, while an average of 198,122 attended Sunday school, small groups or Bible study.

“Many churches began sharing their worship services online during the pandemic,” said McConnell in Lifeway’s statement. “While some may only continue this practice until it’s safe for all to return, others have made it an ongoing part of their ministry or outreach.”

Seventy percent of SBC-affiliated churches took part in the 2021 profile, less than the 75% that did so in 2019.

McConnell said all 41 Baptist state conventions reported membership numbers, but several state conventions did not request information about participation in online worship and Christian education.

Adelle Banks es editora de producción y corresponsal nacional de Religion News Service.



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11 pensamientos sobre “Measuring COVID-19 Effects: Southern Baptists Report 19% Attendance Drop”

  1. I’m not surprised by this drop given that many SBC congregations were hotbeds of anti-vaxxer activism. Who wants to worship in person at churches where Covid-19 was seen as a hoax and vaccines were seen as government plots to take away your freedom? Not me.

    1. Bob, It appears you are not following any of the massive amounts of current/present data from varying countries with your comment.

      See here for one recent risk/benefit analysis coming from the UK. It’s totally devastating the idea of “informed” consent.

      Kirsch can show a dozen different ways mathematically the injections are causing irreparable harm while the powers that ought not be are continually lying. He’s offered huge sums of money for any public health authority to sit down and have a recorded conversation with him about his conclusions with the CDC’s own data, but so far no one is willing.

      Do you not realize the ever growing number of lawsuits medical professionals are bringing against the CDC and NIH? The present health care system will implode from the amount of internal corruption and bullying, imo.

      1. Kirsh is not a qualified epidemiologist and has been debunked by numerous sources. Offering money for interviews is a typical tactic of conspiracy theorists desperate for attention. For his claims to be even remotely true, given it’s supposedly based on public data, there would have to be a conspiracy of silence among hundreds of public and private organizations and individuals spanning the entire globe. Not credible.

        Instead, the claims are being promoted by the same few usual suspects, which comes as no surprise at all.

        1. Mike, I see you failed to respond with substance – like showing how his conclusions using UK’s own data are flawed.

          “Conspiracy theory” and “debunked” are terms the propagandists use to keep people from thinking rationally.

          Instead of the supposed silence you suggested, there have been hundreds (if not thousands) of people from professional healthcare all across the world who have come forwards to expose the corruption of bullying and threats coming from management/leadership on those who speak truth about the injections.

          Have you not seen any of these individuals interviews? Did you not read the second link I provided?

          More info is surfacing that Fauci and Collins had massive conflicts of interests, yet these were purposefully concealed until recently.

          1. Marin Heiskell

            Words like “propagandists” and phrases like “keep people from thinking rationally” are used to dismiss and belittle the arguments of those who disagree.
            Just a warning that you are doing the same thing you accuse Mike of doing.

  2. It’s interesting that the SBC blames covid for a trend that started before covid. Covid most likely helped individuals in their decision to leave the SBC but the exodus from Evangelicalism was already happening and it’s likely to continue.

    Many people have started that they were ready to leave their Evangelical community prior to covid but were hesitant to break ties completely with their good friends. (Many experience what can only be called shunning simply for leaving an Evangelical church and attending a Christian church of another tradition.) Covid provided an opportunity for them to visit other churches online without having to explain their absences at their local Evangelical church.

    1. Lisa, I found that you’re very last sentence of your comment, the most interesting to me. Online services have given me an opportunity to see other conservative churches Sunday services. I have found this very enlightening. I think in the long run, good churches will be strengthened by online services.

      It is utterly amazing that probably less than a decade ago, most Christians rejected the fringe ideas of several outlier religious groups. The Southern Baptists as well as many other conservative groups have adopted their strange ideas that they had the good sense to laugh at just a few years ago! I’m happy to say that I have had three shots for Covid so far.

      Fauci calls 1 million COVID deaths ‘incredibly tragic’: ‘Many of those deaths were avoidable’

    2. Marin Heiskell

      Hi Lisa –

      I agree with you and Jim. While not a member of the SBC, I am a Black evangelical who has attended a predominantly white evangelical church for several years. Over the last few years, I was struggling to stay in my church for a number of reasons: subtle racism became not-so-subtle, legalism running rampant, hiding behind the Bible to avoid taking action in the community, etc.
      Covid gave me the chance to visit other churches online – often many in one Sunday – and exposed the legalistic Christianese I had grown accustomed to. I see it as a silver lining of the pandemic.

  3. Marin,

    I provided both Bob and Mike with gov issued data, and math that interprets said data that directly contradicts the narrative of those in control. I can further provide links of those inside the systems (health, gov, military) who are whistleblowers, but wasn’t surprised that Mike didn’t ask for any.

    If you disagree with this evidence in any way, please feel free to “debunk” with substance and reason.


  4. The Southern Baptist Convention, along with most other Evangelical denominations and churches, have been experiencing membership and attendance declines since long before COVID. And while this particular attendance drop is due to the pandemic, the loss of 400,000 church members in just one year, and 2.9 million since 2006, is due to multiple other factors.

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